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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                    329
away from the crowd and screwing up his eyes as if to
protect them from a sharp wind.
The people began to disperse, but in that instant a
plane glided over the edge of the wood as noiselessly as
a shadow, its wheels just grazing the tops of the trees.
Like an apparition it glided over the people's heads, over
the ground, and as if drawn to it touched the grass with
all three wheels. A dull thud, the crunching of gravel
and the swish of grass were heard, which was unusual,
for airmen never hear it owing to the noise their engines
make when they land. All this was so sudden that nobody
realised what had happened, although it was the most
ordinary thing: a plane landed, and it was "No. 11", the
very one they had all been waiting for so anxiously.
"It's him!" somebody shouted in an hysterical, un-
natural voice, and at once all awoke out of their stupor.
The plane finished its run and came to a standstill at
the very edge of the airfield, in front of the wall of
young, curly, white-barked birch-trees that were lit up
in the orange-coloured rays of the setting sun.
Again nobody rose from the cockpit. People rushed to
the machine as fast as they could, panting, and filled with
foreboding. The colonel ran ahead of them all, jumped on
to the wing, drew back the hood and looked into the
cockpit. Meresyev was sitting there, bare-headed, his face
as white as a summer cloud, and with a smile on his
bloodless, greenish lips. Two streams of blood trickled
down his chin from his bitten lip.
"Alive? Are you hurt?"
Meresyev smiled weakly and looking at the colonel
with dead tired eyes answered:
"I'm all right. I was just scared.,.. For about six:
kilometres I hadn't a drop left."
The airmen crowded round the plane, noisily congra-
tulating Alexei and shaking his hand.
"Go easy chaps, you'll break that wing off! You mustn't
do that! Let me get out!" Alexei chided them with a
smile.
At that moment, from below the crowd of heads that
were hovering over him, he heard a familiar voice, but
so faint that it seemed to come from very far:
"Alyosha, Alyosha!"
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